*What a week! Julio Jones became the sixth player to ever record a 300-yard receiving game. Dak Prescott continued his interception-less streak. Rex Ryan and the Bills handed the Patriots their first home shutout at Gillette Stadium. Pittsburgh's offense finally came into form. Drew Brees came back from the dead against his former club. The Jaguars won a game! Here's what we learned in a storyline-rich Week 4: *
- Ryan Fitzpatrick avoided the humiliation of last week's six-INT meltdown in Kansas City, but the Jets passer looked tentative against Seattle's swarming defense on Sunday. His first fourth-quarter interception -- he got fooled by Richard Sherman on a back-shoulder throw -- was the turning point of the game. Fitzpatrick, who now has nine interceptions in his past two games, is at a crossroads with back-to-back road trips to Pittsburgh and Arizona on tap.
*-- Dan Hanzus *
- Something in Indianapolis' offense is fundamentally, irreversibly broken. The offensive line -- the source of so many disagreements between management who feel the talent is there but not coached, and the coaches who feel like the talent is coached but not talent(ed) -- is not allowing for any sort of rhythm. Andrew Luck was sacked six times on Sunday and when he wasn't uncomfortably rolling away from pressure, his receivers did not seem to break into empty space.
- Gus Bradley's staff made some mistakes against the Colts on Sunday, allowing them second and third chances to climb back into the game -- a recurring problem since 2013. However, the attitude and effort seems to be on a different level from a year ago around this time. The 2015 Jaguars would have almost certainly lost Sunday's game to the Colts, but an improved defensive line and ground game make a world of difference.
-- Conor Orr
- Don't pin this result entirely on the Patriots starting third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Buffalo's offense dictated play with three scoring drives over 10 plays to start the game. Buffalo's defensive front seven dominated New England, harassing Brissett when the team started passing in the second half. Rex Ryan has out-coached Bill Belichick and Bruce Arians in back-to-back weeks.
- The change to Anthony Lynn at offensive coordinator yielded positive results again this week. The Bills focused on getting Tyrod Taylor (27 of 39, 246 yards with a TD) short throws outside of the pocket and the team protected him very well all day. New England's pass rush was absent. Taylor and LeSean McCoy forced missed tackles all day long.
- Rex is getting incredible performances from his defensive players. Jerry Hughes is one of the best pass rushers in football. Zach Brown has been everywhere the last few weeks, with 18 tackles, three for a loss, QB hits and a sack Sunday. Journeymen like Lorenzo Alexander are playing like quality starters. This was the first time the Patriots were shut out in the history of Gillette Stadium.
*-- Gregg Rosenthal *
- Matt Ryan and Julio Jones became the first quarterback-receiver tandem of the Super Bowl era to combine for at least 500 passing yards and 300 receiving yards, per NFL Research. Severely outplaying last year's MVP, Ryan built on his NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors to assume the top spot in the quarter-pole MVP discussion.
- When Jones last faced a Carolina secondary featuring All-Pro Josh Norman, the dynamic wideout was the key figure in a major Atlanta upset, hauling in nine passes for 178 yards. With Norman out of the picture, Jones nearly equaled those numbers by halftime, burning not just the overmatched rookie cornerback duo of James Bradberry and Daryl Worley but also third-year pro Bene' Benwikere.
- Carolina's defense finally faced a legitimate test after drawing Trevor Siemian's first NFL start, Blaine Gabbert's talent-poor offense and Minnesota's one-dimensional attack in the first three games. The Falcons' finely tuned aerial attack exposed the Panthers' penny-pinching defensive backfield, which received precious little help from a front seven that hasn't put consistent heat on quarterbacks this season.
-- Chris Wesseling
- After jumping out to leads of 6-0, 10-0 and 17-0 over his first three starts, Dak Prescott faced adversity on Sunday with San Francisco building an early 14-point advantage. Prescott, though, led the Cowboys on several beautiful touchdown drives to take the lead in the second half. He did all of it without Dez Bryant in the lineup.
- The 49ers are a different team at home. After giving up a ridiculous 83 points in back-to-back road losses, San Francisco battled deep into the final quarter. Blaine Gabbert (16 of 23 passing for 196 yards) is a solid scrambler, but he was exposed on a fourth-quarter bomb to Torrey Smith that drifted short into the arms of Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne.
- Ezekiel Elliott's yardage (51, 83, 140) and yards per carry (2.55, 3.95, 4.67) increased with each game heading into Week 4. His 138 yards at 6 yards per pop came within a fingernail of extending that trend, but forget the stats: Elliott is a massive talent, who runs downhill with power and grows stronger as the game winds on. He initially struggled against this NaVorro Bowman-led defense, but caught fire once Bowman was lost to a potentially ominous lower-leg injury in the third quarter.
-- Marc Sessler
- After leading the NFL in several major categories last season, Arizona's offense has begun this season in a malaise. Through four games, all 10 of Carson Palmer's first-quarter drives have resulted in punts, putting the defense behind the eight-ball. Rather than using the run and the short passing game to set up downfield strikes, the Cardinals have been forcing the deep ball in inopportune situations.
- Arizona's offensive woes were due in no small part to a pressuring Rams defense led by Aaron Donald. The All-Pro defensive tackle generated 1.5 sacks and four QB hits, teaming with Eugene Sims on a high-low takedown that knocked Palmer out of a 13-10 game late in the fourth quarter. Donald and Robert Quinn have been as disruptive as any tackle-end tandem in football this season, setting the tone for a swarming defense that has bounced back in a big way from an embarrassing 28-0 shellacking in the season opener.
- The Cardinals made it a point to get John Brown involved after the speedy wideout's role was deemphasized in September due to a concussion that sidelined him for the majority of training camp. Brown corralled 10 of a career-high 16 targets for 144 yards while Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd combined for eight catches and 98 yards on 14 targets. Unreliable at the point of the catch, Floyd has been as disappointing as any starting receiver this season.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Credit Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for befuddling Matthew Stafford despite deploying a banged-up unit. Fangio dropped into coverages, taking away quick routes and downfield shots to Marvin Jones. Sunday was the worst game Stafford played since Jim Bob Cooter took over for Joe Lombardi last year.
- Brian Hoyer distributed the ball well to seven different receivers and didn't have any Jay Cutler-esque boneheaded plays. The Bears utilized bootlegs regularly to get Hoyer out of the pocket and simplify his reads. The veteran signal-caller won't wow with arm strength, but can manage the game and make smart decisions.
-- Kevin Patra
- Tennessee's offense in not built to come from behind. Marcus Mariota and the Titans flirted with a deep passing game in spots against the Texans, but ended up relying on the same dressed-up power running scheme that the Titans coach has been running for a long time. We've lauded its effectiveness -- it kept the Vikings off balance for a half in the season-opener -- but it is nowhere near complete enough to produce a steady winner at the moment.
- Derrick Henry only got three attempts (nine yards) on Sunday and nothing notable near the goal line, in part because this game ended up being high-scoring by Titans standards and DeMarco Murray seems more adept in the passing game. But against the Vikings in Week 1, one of Mike Mularkey's strengths as a play-caller was the talent he deployed in versatile backfield formations.
-- Conor Orr
- Kirk Cousins was a picture of perfection out of the gate, completing his first nine passes and throwing touchdown strikes on Washington's opening two drives. The Redskins quarterback crashed to earth one series later, though, tossing a costly pick that set up Cleveland's second touchdown. After mounting the 14-0 lead, Cousins (21-of-27 passing for 183 yards) and the Redskins scored just three points over the next 35 minutes before the signal-caller sealed the game with his third touchdown dart of the day in the final frame.
- Terrelle Pryor has emerged as one of the most fascinating players league-wide. Cleveland's quarterback-turned-wideout blasted the Dolphins for 200 total yards in Week 3 before making a rash of early plays against the Redskins. Pryor notched his first-ever touchdown grab in the first half, but was largely erased over the final 30 minutes by All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. Unlike last week, Pryor barely played under center as rookie Cody Kessler guided a run-heavy operation.
- It was clear right away that Jordan Reed was in for a productive day against a Browns defense that came into the game allowing the NFL's third most receptions (22) and fifth most yards (244) to tight ends. The Redskins pass-catcher caught two touchdowns in the space of seven minutes and finished with a team-leading nine grabs for 73 yards.
*-- Marc Sessler *
- With Le'Veon Bell in tow, the Steelers' offense finally played up to the high expectations its roster has warranted over the past three years. Ben Roethlisberger tossed five touchdown passes, four of which came in a dominant first half, on a defense that had given up just two in its first three games. Bell came back into the fold, shifting like his old self through the Chiefs' front seven to 178 total yards on 23 touches. Antonio Brown schooled the Chiefs secondary with two touchdowns, per usual. Even Darrius Heyward-Bey notched a score. If Pittsburgh can perform at this level against the few defenses tougher and smarter than the Chiefs', then the AFC is in trouble.
- After Markus Wheaton dropped the ball (multiple times) in Pittsburgh's Week 3 loss, the Steelers have turned to deep threat Sammie Coates as their new No. 2. Coates, who is good for at least one 40-plus-yard gain per game -- he has a league-leading five in four games -- delivered against emerging cornerback Marcus Peters. The second-year wideout had a career-high six catches for 79 yards. Coates' emergence signals Big Ben's continued comfortability with the "big play" offense that has carried Pittsburgh so far this season; Roethlisberger connected on three scoring plays of 30 yards or more on Sunday night.
- One week after ravaging the Jets with eight takeaways, the Chiefs were undone by their own turnovers. Kansas City surrendered the ball twice in the first quarter inside its own 30-yard line on a Spencer Ware fumble and a tipped Alex Smith pick; the Steelers turned those two turnovers into 15 quick points, a lead Pittsburgh would never relinquish.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- The Paxton Lynch era in Denver has begun ... kind of. After Trevor Siemian left the game with a shoulder injury late in the first half, the Broncos rookie quarterback took the reins and led three scoring drives in just over a half of work. Lynch threw sharp intermediate routes with pace and displayed his trademark rollout ability on his first career touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders.
- Jameis Winston's sophomore slump continues in Tampa. Winston threw two first-half interceptions to Aqib Talib, both of which translated into Broncos touchdowns, and never regained his confidence in the pocket. The second-year starter looked skittish against a vaunted Denver pass rush and was sacked five times.
- Denver got Derek Wolfe at a bargain. The fierce defensive end earned a career-high 2.5 sacks and five QB hits on Winston and has now totaled four sacks on the season. All this for just over $9 million per year over four years.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- The Chargers did everything in their power to lose to the Saints on Sunday. Despite having the ball with a 34-21 lead with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter, the Chargers did their best to replicate their Week 1 collapse in Kansas City. The final three Chargers' drives looked like this: One play, Melvin Gordon fumble; one play, Travis Benjamin fumble; four plays, Philip Rivers interception. After the game, coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers "absolutely gave this one away."
- While he got the win, Drew Brees' return to San Diego wasn't all glorious but he got the last laugh. After tossing a back-breaking interception late in the game that led to the Chargers taking a commanding 34-21 lead, Brees helped will the Saints back. The future Hall of Famer converted a huge fourth-and-goal touchdown to Michael Thomas to make the game 34-28. He then kept the ensuing drive alive with two big third-down completions that led to John Kuhn's game-winning TD.
- Chargers running back Melvin Gordon continued to prove he might be the most improved player in the NFL from a season ago. Despite the late-game fumble, Gordon showed off patience and burst that he lacked last year. He didn't rush for much on the ground, compiling 36 yards on 19 carries, but he scored a touchdown for the fourth consecutive game and now has an NFL-high six rushing touchdowns this season. He did damage through the air, too, catching six balls for 43 yards.
-- Edward Lewis
- The Raiders topped the Ravens in a wild, eventful finish that had a lackluster start at M&T Bank Stadium. Steve Smith Sr.'s 52-yard touchdown cut the Raiders' lead to a mere two points. On the Ravens' next possession, a Terrance West touchdown and successful two-point conversion put Baltimore on top by six. However, it wasn't enough. Oakland ended Baltimore's undefeated record after Michael Crabtree tacked on his third touchdown reception of the day.
- Have a day, Crabtree. Crabtree silenced his critics with his three touchdowns over the Ravens. The veteran receiver finished the day with seven receptions for 88 yards. Prior to today, Crabtree had one touchdown thus far this season.
*-- Andie Hagemann *